I love writing. I really do.
When I left Games Workshop a few years ago, I had a few sessions with an employment consultant. During one meeting early on she asked the question that so often pops up in interviews and appraisals – “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” It had always bamboozled me a little bit in the past because I was, frankly, doing what I wanted to be doing. On this particular occasion it struck me not to think of it as an abstract question but to actually visualise what I wanted to be doing.
And what I wanted to be doing, what I saw myself doing, was sitting in front of a keyboard. It was that moment, that clarity an oft-overused question brought, which settled me into the life of the freelancer.
I don’t have many memories from my childhood, so I can’t say that I was making up stories from the age of five or anything, but I do remember my first fantasy book. It was called Anazar’s Crystal. It was an epic, probably almost a thousand words long, all handwritten for English class, with Illustrations by the Author too.
It was a typical quest narrative, but I won’t say more than that because there was a kernel of an idea that I might come back to one day, when I’ve got the opportunity for an old-style heroic fantasy novel.
Up to and through my teens I continued to write (and design games), and I revisited Anazar’s Crystal, coming up with some neat concepts that, as I just mentioned, still have some merit. The writing itself was probably not all that great, but thankfully nothing remains of these early scribblings – including a pronunciation guide inspired by the Professor (and along with a fascination for languages came an unhealthy need to draw maps, lots of maps). However, my fixation on double-vowels continued into The Crown of the Blood…
All of which is to say that writing is something I’ve always done and, leaving aside the fortunes of chance that saw me employed at Games Workshop and hence writing for Black Library, I would still be writing for the sake of it.
I am not alone. There are thousands, possibly millions of people across the world that write because they want to, because they like it, because they need to get the thoughts and ideas out of their heads in some fashion.
Fan fiction is often disparaged, but anybody that takes the time in this age of instant gratification to string together a couple of hundred words or more deserves credit. To do so for the enjoyment of it, regardless of end result, should be rewarded not mocked. (Okay, maybe we could do with less slash fiction, but that’s where I draw the line.)
And some of it, quite a bit of it, is rather good. The fan writer of today is the published writer of tomorrow (or sometimes the published writer of yesterday, such are the whims of fate). While I sometimes remember to let free a nugget of my experience on these pages, no advice can ever beat ‘Just write.’ (This should be followed by ‘and bloody finish’ but that is a lot harder.) More and more these days publishers are trying to find the best ways to catch the talent, and though the good old slush pile still remains, being active in the community and writing stuff is becoming a surer route than it used to be. I will always support* folks that aspire to be published, whether through words of advice here or in person, or by supporting such forums and communities as I can.
One such effort has been the Shellcase Shorts. I’ve donated a few prizes over the last couple of years to hopefully reward those who have managed to not only start writing something, but have actually finished (see rule two, earlier). The latest winners have now been compiled into the Shellcase Shorts anthology and as a gesture of support – my tiny contribution compared to the efforts of others – I have written a foreword.
Go here and read these stories now, feel inspired, sing their praises (or provide a constructive critique if that’s your thing).
*A caveat nearly every writer will give you: for reasons of time and to avoid accusations of plagiarism I am unable to give feedback on specific works in progress, proposals or finished pieces. Sorry. Truth is, if a writer has time to read someone else’s work and edit it, chances are they’ll be using that time on their own stuff.